MIO-ECSDE & MEdIES, the University of Athens, the UNESCO Venice Office and the Greek MAB Committee have organised a 4-week long e-learning course entitled “Management of MAB Biosphere Reserves (BRs) and other designated areas”. The e-course has been built on one of the eight chapters of the UNESCO publication: “Education for Sustainable Development in Biospheres Reserves and other Designated Areas: A Resource Book for Educators in South-Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean”
We took this opportunity to interview Ms Iro Alampei from MIO/ECSDE in order to get some more information on this innovative activity.
Can you give us some information on the e-learning course? Who is it designed for? Who were the participants? What did it entail for them participants (i.e. number of hours, online lectures)?
The course was designed as a way to promote the newly published Resource Book to its target audience, that is educators, environmental interpreters and managers from the Mediterranean and SE European countries and beyond. Specifically our aim was to train this target group on practical ways they can apply the Resource Book in their professions. In this first attempt we “transformed” one of the book chapters dealing with management (16 page long in the Book) to an asynchronous e-course that lasted four weeks and had several extra features that cannot be included in printed media such as e-resources, especially multimedia, e-exercises and e-interactions. The participants -31 in total from 12 countries- needed to devote approximately 10 hrs per week to fulfil the requested tasks. As the course was a-sychronous (did not require the simultaneous online interaction) each learner had the flexibility to do the assignments in the evenings during weekends, etc. according to his/her own workload and family obligations.
Can you tell us a few words about this first e-learning course? Was it successful? What were the positive and negative parts of it?
It should be underlined that the course was not a simple e-text followed by an e-test, as is the case in many courses, but it was designed from scratch as a truly experiential activity based on the “learning-by-doing” principle: Participants were engaged in activities of forming e-groups, reading, watching and commenting on videos, comparing & synthesising arguments, researching and presenting cases of protected areas from their countries, writing articles, drafting management plans for parks and Biosphere Reserves, and posting their views in the discussion forums.
For four weeks 31 people interacted daily exchanging experiences based on real scenarios and challenges of their day-to-day working environments. A negative aspect would be the lack of face-to-face interaction. We all missed that.
How do you think that the participants benefit from the course? Which were the main axes that were taught?
The course was built on the contents of the Resource Book, and the four weeks covered the following themes:
Week 1 – Introduction: From environmental management to sustainable management
Week 2 – Implementation of a Management Plan
Week 3 – Raising funds for MAB BRs and other designated areas
Week 4 – Far-reaching dimensions of designated areas
The course was designed in order for participants to benefit in many ways. The mixing of “expert” and “junior” managers as learners allowed for meaningful exchange of know-how in the discussions and the group assignments. Meanwhile as the course entailed a lot of e-work it strengthened the e-skills of learners. Week by week the difficulty of assignments and the level of interactions increased. By the end of week four we acted as a “learning community” that exchanged ideas and experiences, and learned from our readings, but most of all learned from each other.
For us, as facilitators, and for the attendants as well, judging from their level of participation and the evaluation, this high level of interaction has been an overwhelming experience. As one participant said once the course was over “after four weeks, it will feel strange next Monday when I will not log on in the platform to check out the new learning content”.
Why did you decide to use an e-learning platform for this course? Will you run other similar courses?
E-interactions, in all their forms are gaining more and more ground, as gradually -but pretty fast actually- we transform to e-societies. Take for example the evolution of mobiles, the social media, the numerous e-courses provided by universities worldwide. Moreover e-courses have a high value-for money as they entail no travel costs. In our case, we have invested many work-months of a team of committed people (IT experts, trainers, environmental managers), to design and execute this e-course. Nevertheless, this cost cannot be compared with the potential cost of moving 31 international travels that would have been prohibitive for us. Another important aspect is that the content of the course can evolve. Unlike the fate of any book, that sooner or later becomes outdated, e-courses can be constantly updated and enriched. We hope that the e-course will be like a living organism, continuously evolving and adapting to incorporate experiences, new information and better insights. In this regard, and given the high demand for the course and its very positive evaluation, we are motivated not only to repeat it but to design more courses in the future.